Mike Elizalde Interview

Mike Elizalde Interview

Mike Elizalde, a Los Angeles-based make-up designer, sculptor and animatronic engineer, has worked on more than 45 feature films, including Men in Black, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Fantastic Four and X-Men: The Last Stand; most recently, he worked on Hellboy 2 and the forthcoming Land of the Lost. In 2004, he was awarded the Saturn Award for Best Makeup for Hellboy. He and his wife Mary established the creature and make-up effects studio Spectral Motion in 1994. Read below his IMATS 2009 interview with Michael Key by TMB’s reporter Eileen Kelly.

Deep breath – when I arrived at the IMAT… to meet with my ‘aim high, shoot even higher’ boss, Karen Loraine, to discuss my itinerary for the day she calmly ended my briefing with “can you get an interview with/write an article on Mike Elizalde?’ I panicked.

As a huge admirer of his work I would say I can only write a biased view of his interview, fortunately my bias towards him is undoubtedly compensated by the immense talent shown throughout his craftsmanship, so no apologies needed.

Makeup Mag editor and IMATS show Director, Michael Key, a master in his own right, gave a fantastic public interview with Elizalde, a superb end to IMATS 20th exhibition.

Mike Elizalde, speaks modestly and overwhelmingly humbly of his work over the years. He relates many of his recent achievements back to Director and friend, Guilmoro Del Toro, of Hellboy I and II. Talking of his work with Del Toro, Elizalde speaks of his gratitude for the director’s choice to celebrate his line of work over the current trend of digital effects.

Much of Elizalde’s work is often mistaken for CGI as it unbelievably appears all so real. He explains Del Toro’s approach to film – “everything that can be done through the camera, must be done through the camera” before post production kicks in. Del Toro has been extremely supportive of Mike, with their shared vision and clearly an amicable work ethic it has guided them through creating some of the most surreal and incredible worlds ever seen in film history. Recognized as Mike Elizalde is currently nominated for an Oscar for Hellboy II – he urges you all to watch the screens in an effort to support his votes for the Oscar, something I am sure supports itself.

Elizalde says his original inspiration came from watching the classic Frankenstein movies and wondering to himself, ‘where did they find a guy that looks like that?’ But he tells us that ‘American Werewolf in London’ is where his passion truly took off. Kneeling at books such as ‘The Techniques of 3 Dimensional make-up’ as if they were his self-proclaimed ‘Bible’; and endlessly flashing his work to Hollywood production companies, it was only a matter of time, and of course hard work before John Beaker took him in to work on his first film ‘Arena’, where he also worked with Steve Wang. He takes a moment to encourage the ‘young, old and inspired’ to send him their works via e-mail, “it’s impersonal and immediate, we would love to see it”.

The next step in Mike Elizalde’s career ladder was to go work for Max Effects, where he would truly find his niche. Here Mike worked alongside Rick Baker’s ex-wife, Baker seemingly a somewhat guiding and constant figure throughout Elizalde’s career “I stalked Rick Baker” Elizalde laughs boyishly. After working for Max Effects where he was given the opportunity to discover what skills he had and what he needed to polish, he began working on the epic haunt from a 1980’s childhood, ’Freddy Krugar’. Alongside ’Krugars’ creator Dave Miller, Elizalde began to perfect his craft.

It was at this stage Elizalde set himself an objective – to open his own shop – he speaks very directly and business minded of the workings of ambition and achievement. Echoing somewhat, the teachings of Rhonda Byrne’s book ‘The Secret’. “Tell the Universe what you want to do, be willing to work hard and you will get there” he confides. So with his mind focused on the future, he sets his hands and eyes to work on the present, immersing himself in painting, sculptor and mechanics. Devoted originally to sculpting as his first love, and he claims “the most fun you could have vertically.” Although enjoying sculpting, Elizalde began to feel overwhelmed at the great talent of other sculptors around him. Recognising his position in the business he began working in animatronics – Elizalde wanted to be on set, behind the camera and he was drawn to animatronics and puppeteering.

His résumé began to build, as he worked on ‘Batman Begins’ evolving the creation of the timeless giant bat, and supervising animatronics for Steve Johnson on ‘Blade’. Here he met with what seems to be his ‘professional soul-mate’, Guilmoro Del Toro. They immediately clicked and appeared to have a mutual appreciation and admiration of each others work. Describing their relationship filled with “a beautiful energy”. Del Toro went on to embrace Elizalde’s dream in 2002, when he chose him to open a studio to create and design all the creatures for Hellboy. “When Del Toro handed us the script there was no way we were going to say no!” – Mike Elizalde. Although his studio ‘Spectral Motion’ was opening at the same time as pre-production and building for Hellboy had begun, he smiles “at the time we were so excited it seemed effortless”. Elizalde constantly speaks of his work in “we’s” and “us”, being gratified that his employee’s and creators wanted to work with him. His modesty and genuine respect for the talent in his industry is humbling. “They do not work for me – it is a collective, we work together” he says. It becomes clearer why his masterpieces are so flawless with the harmonious respect he displays in the work place.

Mike Elizalde’s mission statement – ‘Where artists feel respected and comfortable doing what they do.”

The future of Spectral Motion is due to continue its evolution and to adapt in everyway it can to the changes around them. Practical and digital effects should not die, but hold hands on the journey into the unknown.

Finally Michael Key asks: “What do you want to create that you have not created yet?”

Mike Elizalde: “Opportunities.”

by Eileen Kelly (TMB)

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